By Grant J Everett
The vast majority of people take medications of some kind, even if it’s only the occasional aspirin or daily fish oil tablets. What you may not be aware of is that even “safe” drugs – such as paracetamol – can have severe, even fatal, side effects if misused. In this story, we’re going to talk about the dangers of certain medications in relation to something we have plenty of in Australia: heat.
Exposure to strong sunlight and temperature extremes can burn your skin, give you sunstroke and even produce cancerous melanomas, but being on powerful medications can make these things a whole lot worse. Psychiatric medications have an assortment of common side effects, such as sleepiness, drooling and weight gain, but some of them go beyond annoying or embarrassing and well into the category of DANGEROUS. For instance, according to their safety sheets the following medications can make heat-related problems much more likely as well as more severe.
- Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
- Thioridazine (Mellaril)
- Mesoridazine (Serentil)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
- Benztropine (Cogentin)
- Trihexyphenidyl (Artane)
- Procyclidine (Arpicolin, Kemadrin)
- Imipramine (Tofranil)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- Doxepin (Sinequan)
- Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Protriptyline (Vivactil)
You can lessen the odds of your body overheating on a hot day by finding a cool place to sleep, drinking extra fluids (especially water, juice, Gatorade, and caffeine-free soda), using cold, wet compresses on your head or sitting in a tub of cool water. Some other helpful steps on how to survive summer include spending time in cool places like shopping malls and cinemas, wearing loose, light-coloured, summer-weight clothing, and using fans or air conditioning when possible. Prevention is always better than cure.
Had too much sun? Feel like an over-microwaved burrito? Don’t panic! There are plenty of things you should do if you want to lessen the impact and discomfort of overheating, such as by getting out of the heat, not drinking alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated soda (caffeine and alcohol both increase water loss), and going somewhere shady. Just so you know, the warning signs of a heat reaction include:
- Feeling bad
- Irritability, anxiety
- Fast pulse, rapid breathing, dizziness
- Hot or dry skin
- Vomiting, diarrhea
- Muscle cramps
- Low blood pressure
These symptoms may lead to heat stroke if left untreated, and especially if you remain in the heat. Heat stroke is an EMERGENCY situation where you need to go to hospital, and signs of heat stroke include:
- All the early warning signs listed above
- A very high body temperature
- Throbbing headache
- Red, hot and dry skin without sweating
If you suspect that someone has a heatstroke…
Immediately call 000 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, move the person to an air-conditioned environment – or at least a cool, shady area – and remove any unnecessary clothing. You can fan air over them while wetting their skin with water. Apply ice packs to the patient’s armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature. You can immerse the patient in a cold shower or an ice bath.
After you’ve recovered from heatstroke you’ll probably be more sensitive to high temperatures during the following week, so it’s best to avoid hot weather and heavy exercise until your doctor tells you that it’s safe to resume your normal activities.
Pills can get heatstroke, too!
Don’t forget that leaving medications exposed to sunlight or heat can degrade them. Store your pills and other meds out of sunlight at room temperature. All pharmaceutical drugs come with storage information, so read it, and be sure to note the expiry date. If you expire, that means you’re dead. If a medication has expired, it’s completely useless and needs to be replaced.